The 400-Word Review: Cars 3
By Sean Collier
June 20, 2017


Six years after Cars 2 became the only complete miss in Pixar’s history, the storied studio has attempted to salvage some quality from the series with Cars 3. The franchise is simply too indelible a brand among younger audiences; even though box-office returns have been lukewarm, nearly every conceivable product can be found with the automotive visage of Lightning McQueen printed upon them.

Make no mistake, though: Pixar knows that Cars 2 was a black eye. There are certainly big problems with the Rotten Tomatoes method of film evaluation, but the numbers here are nevertheless stark: To date, the second-lowest score among Pixar’s roster is 74% (appropriately enough, for the original Cars).

Cars 2 finished at 39%.

So the impetus with Cars 3 was not merely to keep the action figures and backpacks in production, but also to return some form of credibility to the franchise. Under the direction of Brian Fee, a longtime Pixar farmhand taking the helm for the first time, the studio made a sudden change: Cars 3 is a drama.

After a group of new, technologically advanced racecars — led by arrogant speedster Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) — McQueen (Owen Wilson) is questioning his future. He’s still fast, but for the first time, he’s not fast enough; after a season ends with a devastating crash, the star returns to his hometown to consider his future.

The ensuing journey takes him to a high-tech training facility, to study under new-age coach and hopeful competitor Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), and eventually to a small-town track to locate his late trainer’s one-time mentor (Chris Cooper).

Sure, there are a handful of laughs here and there, but they are decidedly pushed to the side; after relying on sidekick Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) for the previous sequel, he’s barely present here. Rather, Cars 3 is a reflection on aging and the passage of time, attempting to define the sweep and changes of a life.

No, seriously. I’m not kidding.

Fee and Pixar are to be applauded for trying to make so much of their least serviceable property, and Cars 3 is undeniably the most artful and ambitious of the series. But in spite of a fine third act, trying to layer Pixar’s weightier approach onto characters this thin is a tall order indeed. The result can only be called marginally successful.

Which makes it much better than Cars 2, anyway.

My Rating: 6/10

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at